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Hudson Guild

Hudson Guild, New York City

By John E. Hansan, Ph.D.

Note:  The latter part of this long entry includes an excellent description of how the people of the neighborhood who participated in the programs of the Hudson Guild governed themselves in the organization’s early years.  A description of this settlement house taken from the “Handbook of Settlements” published in 1911 reports: “…The Clubs’ Council of Hudson Guild has been a success because real power has been placed in its hands; the power to do things which interest club members. The Council is composed of representatives from all the evening clubs using the house, and also elects the house court, which represents the judiciary. Many philanthropic organizations bring their beneficiaries together and make a pretense at self-government but keep all real authority out of the people’s hands. The Clubs’ Council has the power and self-developing capacity to be the legislative body of the neighborhood house; and through its committees has the executive functions as well…”


Introduction: The Hudson Guild is a community-based social services organization rooted in and primarily focused on the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City. It was founded in 1897 by Dr. John Lovejoy Elliott, a young man greatly influenced by the growing settlement house movement and the Ethical Culture Society.  The seeds for what became the Hudson Guild were first planted by Dr. Elliot when he organized the “Hurly Burlies,” a social and recreation club for young men in the Chelsea neighborhood. In the next few years, Dr. Elliott established numerous clubs and programs for other groups, including young boys and girls, working women, and families. Elliott’s disparate programs merged in 1897 to become the Hudson Guild, which provided a platform to organize residents to improve neighborhood living conditions.

Among the Guild’s early advocacy successes were lobbying for enactment of the New York Tenement law in 1901, the creation of Chelsea Park, the first recreational space in the area in 1907, and the approval of new, low-cost, city-funded housing in Chelsea in 1938. At the same time, the Guild offered a broad range of direct programming and services to Chelsea residents, opening a kindergarten, starting a Summer Play School, opening dental, prenatal, and well-baby clinics in 1919-1921, founding the Elliott Neighbors Club for Senior Citizens in 1947, opening one of the city’s first community mental health clinics in 1948, and the first offerings of English-as-a-Second-Language classes in 1950. (Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

History: During the late 1800s the West Side Manhattan neighborhood of Chelsea was transformed from a sparsely crowded residential area for wealthy and middle-class property owners to a bustling community where tens of thousands of immigrant families lived and worked. These new Chelsea residents were predominantly Irish and Greek, but also included Italians and Germans, as well as African-American migrants from the south. They rented apartments in hastily constructed tenement buildings or in former one-family townhouses newly subdivided and refashioned as rooming houses. They took jobs as freight handlers, longshoremen, and factory workers in the shipping and industrial area that sprang up west of Tenth Avenue and along the waterfront.

In their leisure hours the residents established benevolent societies and fraternal organizations, attended local churches, and participated in the thriving popular culture of the theaters and dance halls on 23rd Street and 6th Avenue. But even as working class culture flourished in Chelsea, the dense population exacerbated a host of problems. Poverty, hunger, disease, crime, decrepit housing and unsanitary streets were pervasive here as else where in New York, and in rapidly growing cities across the country. Such conditions dimmed the hopes of many immigrants. They also alarmed many wealthy and middle- class Americans who perceived in them threats to moral order, political stability and cultural progress.

Early attempts to ameliorate conditions in a changing urban society included the creation of charity organizations, industrial training schools, and church missions. In London, a similar increase in social problems led reformers in 1884 to establish the first settlement house, Toynbee Hall. The settlement model, originally distinguished by a commitment on the part of its college-educated volunteers to “settle” in working class communities in order to confront their problems first-hand and to contribute to the moral uplift of their neighbors, was quickly imported to the United States.

In 1886 Stanton Coit, a devotee of Felix Adler’s Ethical Culture movement and early observer of the experiment at Toynbee Hall, founded TheToynbee Hall -- 1902[View Image]
[View Image]
Toynbee Hall — 1902

Neighborhood Guild (later renamed University Settlement) on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Over the next several decades scores of settlement houses were established in cities across the country, staffed largely by recent college graduates, many of them young women eager to take an active role in public life. American settlements sponsored such programs as kindergartens, day care, social clubs, health clinics, visiting nurses, summer camps, arts education and vocational training.

They also provided bases of operation for sociologists, journalists, and other researchers of urban conditions. Many settlements provided forums for public debate of political issues, and galvanized popular opinion in support of progressive social legislation. In March of 1895 John Lovejoy Elliott, another Felix Adler protégé inspired by the settlement model, rented rooms on West 25th Street and encouraged a small group of local boys to form a club under his leadership.

Elliott, an Illinois native educated at Cornell University and in Germany, had recently moved to New York to work with Dr. Felix Adler in building the Ethical Culture movement. His Chelsea boys’ club was successful, and others were soon formed for girls and adults under the guidance of Elliott and his Ethical Culture associates. In June of 1897 Hudson Guild was legally incorporated, and programs including a kindergarten, vocational training, athletics, and a library were established through the efforts of a growing staff of volunteers. The popularity of Hudson Guild programs prompted the settlement to move several times in its first decade. Eventually a permanent Hudson Guild building was erected at 436 West 27th Street. Its five stories building housed a library, print shop, club rooms, and baths. Though Hudson Guild did not provide living quarters for settlement house “residents” in the conventional sense, many staff members, including John Elliott, made their homes in Chelsea. The 1910 Annual Report of Hudson Guild describes the institution’s work as an “…attempt…to get the people of the district themselves to be the social workers and the regenerators of their own neighborhood…The purpose of the Guild is to bring about active co-operation between different individuals and different classes for a single aim — that aim being an attempt to learn how to live in a city.”

Public involvement in neighborhood regeneration was fostered through the sponsorship of a “District Committee” comprised of block representatives who reported on housing, health and social conditions in the neighborhood and worked collectively to improve them. Hudson Guild supported campaigns that led to the creation of Chelsea Park in 1907, and a public bathhouse in 1915. Hudson Guild also promoted the democratic participation of its members in running the settlement itself utilizing a “Clubs Council” that determined many institutional policies and programs.

Vocational training was one area of concern to Chelsea residents. In 1912 Hudson Guild collaborated with a typographer’s union local and a business association of printers to establish a printer’s training program. This very successful enterprise was later incorporated into New York’s public school system. During World War I, food shortages and inflation made it difficult for many families to make ends meet. Hudson Guild sponsored a cooperative store to ease the economic burden on Chelsea residents. Other popular activities in the settlement’s early years were summer outings and camping trips to area beaches, parks and campgrounds, including an Ethical Culture Society facility in Orange County. In 1917 Hudson Guild secured its own permanent home for country programs when it purchased several hundred wooded acres in New Jersey’s Watchung Mountains. At its new “Hudson Guild Farm” the settlement began the cultivation of environmental education and camping programs that continued to flourish over seventy-five years later.

During the 1920s Hudson Guild cultural programs were expanded with the formation of the Cellar Players, a theater group that performed in the settlement basement, and with the creation of music and art departments. A strong emphasis was placed on health care through medical, dental and maternity clinics. Such low-cost programs were essential to Chelsea residents whose incomes were reduced with the onset of the 1930s depression. In addition to causing widespread unemployment and hunger, the economic collapse exacerbated a longstanding housing crisis in New York.

From its inception the settlement movement had advocated the regulation and improvement of tenements, and settlement leaders including John L. Elliott were among the earliest proponents of government-funded housing construction and management. Hudson Guild itself had helped form the Chelsea Homes Corporation that in 1915 sponsored “model 3 tenements” providing clean, affordable homes to Chelsea families. Soon after the passage of the United States Housing Act in 1937, Hudson Guild established the Chelsea Association for Planning and Action to galvanize community support for public housing construction on the West Side. Demolition to make room for the first Chelsea housing project was started in 1942, but the work was soon interrupted because of the financial pressures of the Second World War. The project was finally completed in 1947 and was named for John L. Elliott, whose death in 1943 brought Hudson Guild’s first era to a close. H. Daniel “Dan” Carpenter, an Ohio native who had first come to Hudson Guild in 1931 as boys’ club worker, succeeded Elliott as Head Worker (the title was soon changed to Executive ‘” Director). Under Carpenter’s leadership during the war years Hudson Guild hosted USO activities, sponsored social programs for Coast Guard men temporarily encamped in the open field created by the halted public housing construction, cultivated food in “Victory Gardens” at the New Jersey farm, and initiated a veterans consultation service to help returning servicemen adjust to life at home. After the war new programs for senior citizens were created, as well as a child care center and mental health clinic. During the 1950s New York’s Puerto Rican population increased dramatically, and many thousands of these new immigrants settled on the West Side. Hudson Guild staff members, including Dan Carpenter, traveled to Puerto Rico to learn about the culture of the settlement’s new neighbors. Spanish speakers were added to the staff, and programs oriented to the new community, such as English language instruction, were instituted.

Source: Columbia University Library Books and Manuscript Library — Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Butler Library, 6th Floor
Columbia University
535 West 114th Street
New York, NY 10027

Note: For users interested in a view of the neighborhood, housing, activities and  programs of Hudson Guild in 1910, please read the description below about Hudson Guild found in the HANDBOOK OF SETTLEMENTS written by two settlement pioneers, Robert Archey Woods and Albert J. Kennedy, and published by The Russell Sage Foundation of New York in 1911.

Hudson Guild: 436-438 West Twenty-seventh Street (1908-)

Establ1shed March, 1895, by John L. Elliott “to teach the ethics of social organization, and to help in preparing the people for American citizenship. First, it strives to make them ambitious to become economically independent and self-supporting. Second, it strives to make them co-operative in spirit, and self-governing. Third, it strives to inculcate a knowledge and a love of American principles and institutions.” “The object of the guild is to help men and women and children in their work and play just as men and women and children; to lend a hand in time of distress; to organize and give effectiveness to the social instincts that exist in all men; to get the people of the district themselves to be social workers and the regenerators of their own neighborhood; to bring about active co-operation between different individuals in different classes in order to learn how to live in a city.” Maintained by club dues, subscription and donations from the New York Society for Ethical Culture.

Neighborhood. “The lower West Side in what was once Chelsea Village. The people are largely Irish and German, though there are Jews, Italians, and Swedes. Education is rare. The people have no definite standards for living and are rather the sort that simply trail along doing what everybody else does. The least objectionable in neighborhood standards are poor and pitiful, never by any chance challenging the finer sides of their natures. It is every man for himself; there are no heroes beyond a successful boxer or ball player. Perhaps the chief difficulty is unwillingness to think things out. It is only when the people are forcefully stimulated that they will consent to study a problem; and when after a long prodding we find that they are willing to assume the initiative we are proud as of a great victory.”

Activities. Instrumental in securing the fine public park and playground which faces its building. Has worked hard to secure the removal of the NewYork Central tracks on Tenth Avenue, so far without success. Through its clubs council secured provision for athletics in the neighborhood park; killed a petition to prohibit base ball playing; and endeavors to remedy bad hygienic and housing conditions, etc.

A great contribution of the guild has been its working out of the guild principle as set forth by Stanton Coit. “The guild attempts to get people to work for better conditions in such a way that the finer human relations, such as neighborliness and fraternity, may be evolved out of the work. It believes that not only the possession of advantages but the experience and interest that come from working for advantages are to be prized. To get the people of a neighborhood to care for the children of that neighborhood in their play, education, and health; to get the citizens of a tuberculosis infected district to fight that disease, and to care for those already afflicted, and to protect those yet free from it; to create the demand for and to secure the establishment of public places for amusement, education, and conference so that in time the tenement houses and the streets and all conditions of living may be bettered,—these are typical of the guild’s aims. To create this kind of activity two things are needed: the individual who is enlightened and progressive, and the group educated in the practice of working together for social ends. Every attempt is made to help and stimulate the individual who comes to the guild. . . . The chief reliance is placed on what might be called storytelling. Beginning with the little ones in the library and ending with the older men of the house there is for each age and group a series of stories, biographies, histories and dramas. These are selected not with the idea of teaching history or literature but for the purpose of throwing light upon and creating interest about the problems that the various groups are meeting. The dominant note is the spiritual side of social reform.

“In group work the purpose is to train individuals in the aims and practices of co-operative enterprises. While every community depends on fine individuals for its advancement, it will also be benefited if the rank and f1le of its members are in the habit of working together in a good way for fine things. The attempt is made to have every club do something for the house or for the community. … At first social enterprises are set going in the club, then in the house, then in the neighborhood, then in the city. The guild purposes not to put one person doing one thing but attempts to be the yeast which starts the social rising. It believes that in every one there is the making of a good citizen, and the best way to make him a good citizen is to bring him into contact with others doing social work and enlist his sympathies so that he may learn through doing.

“The guild as constituted is governed by three co-ordinate bodies: trustees, representing generally friends and contributors; workers, representing those who have dedicated their lives to social service and are the real dynamic force of the work; and the council, which represents the people in the neighborhood. The trustees, who, in the last analysis, are the parties charged with the responsibility of the permanence of the work, leave the actual operation of the activities of the guild house to those who are fitted for such work. They may suggest policies but the practical application of their ideas is often modified and always put into execution by the two other co-ordinate bodies. For fifteen years they have followed a plan of conference with all parties. Where at times the people in the neighborhood have not been participants in the work, interest on their part has flagged and the danger of mutual irritation was engendered. Through the years, however, there has come a better policy and more trustful spirit which is perhaps the thing to be most prized at the Hudson Guild; those in different classes, employers and employed, those having different degrees of education and culture, working side by side for common aims. It is impossible to trace this development through dates and in various localities. It has been a light slowly coming, but it has brought with it a faith in democracy and sense of fraternity that is far and away the best of any contribution that may have been made.

The Clubs’ Council. The Clubs’ Council of Hudson Guild has been a success because real power has been placed in its hands; the power to do things which interest club members. The Council is composed of representatives from all the evening clubs using the house, and also elects the house court, which represents the judiciary. Many philanthropic organizations bring their beneficiaries together and make a pretense at self-government but keep all real authority out of the people’s hands. The Clubs’ Council has the power and self-developing capacity to be the legislative body of the neighborhood house; and through its committees has the executive functions as well. To convince the members that they were to have a real power in the house and to give them training in this very necessary branch of education the council was given the function of apportioning rents of the clubs and collecting these rents; and is held responsible for paying bills amounting to above f1fteen hundred dollars a year. These bills cover the entire lighting and heating, the janitor supplies, and incidental repairs and breakage. Holding the house members responsible for meeting this expenditure makes them naturally much more careful about waste and anxious to make as advantageous contracts as possible for coal, gas, and electricity. Certain articles of the constitution follow:

“art1cle I. Sec 1. Legislative Department. All legislative powers for the house herein granted shall be vested in the Clubs’ Council of the Hudson Guild, which shall be a representative body.

“art1cle II. Sec. 1. Mode of Passing Rules. Every measure which shall have passed the Council shall before it becomes a law be presented to the head worker of the Hudson Guild; if he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it with his objections to the Council, and if after further consideration two-thirds of all the members of the Council agree to pass the measure it shall become a law.

“article III. Sec 1. Powers of the Council. To assign rooms, to apportion and collect house rents, to regulate interclub affairs and the relations of the house with other neighborhood houses, to establish a uniform rule for the passing of a member from one club to another, to promote educational work, to provide means of athletic exercise and entertainment, to undertake and encourage improvements in the neighborhood, to establish a court in the house, to make house rules, to suspend or expel any club, to grant or take away privileges from any club.

“article IV. Sec. 1. Duties of the Head Worker. He shall, from time to time, give information to the Council about the state of the house and recommend for its consideration such measures as he shall deem necessary and expedient. Sec. 2. The Council may at any time by a two-thirds vote impeach the head worker.

“There is much talk these days about self-government and democracy. Probably the best people in the community are not able to govern themselves any too well; however, there is this in common among all people that they get more out of self-government in the long run, or at least participating in self-government, than they do out of any other form of management. The Guild does not claim that it has a perfect form of government for a neighborhood house; it is trying to learn those methods and to acquire the virtue and skill which will make self-government more and more possible and an ever greater reality. The work of the Guild is an attempt at self-education and self-government. It is a lesson which cities, states, and the nation itself have only partially learned. Through the medium of parties and politicians the people, and particularly the poor people, have been almost entirely divorced from any participation in government, and this points great danger in the future. The Guild is trying to give such powers to and develop such responsibility in its club members that they will be able and willing to take a really useful part not only in the house but in the neighborhood and city as well.

“The District Committee.—The District Committee is made up of residents in neighboring tenement blocks who act as guardians for their locality. It is composed not only of house members but also of those not belonging to clubs who will render any service whatsoever. Each member is responsible for his or her block, reporting the cases of illness, want, unsanitary conditions, etc., through the chairman of the committee. The fact that the Guild members have an intimate knowledge of the neighborhood is a great help, and the “block system” has made it possible to know every family in certain areas. The committee turns to various city departments, organized philanthropies and the volunteer assistance of professional men to aid it in solving the problems of the individual and the district. The good will of the neighbors has been enlisted in helping one another; some assistance has been given in securing employment; a beginning has been made in enlisting the district in a campaign against tuberculosis; and the people are increasingly applying neighborhood initiative to the problem of bad housing and sanitation. The District Committee spends several hundred dollars a year in carrying out its program. To this fund about half the clubs contribute voluntarily; some of the afternoon boys’ clubs taking great interest in the district work and never neglecting their monthly donation of fifty cents. The committee wishes to help people to help each other, to create neighborly spirit, to break down indifference. It wants to organize, strengthen and encourage the interest the poor have for the poor; to help them to look beyond their own door-sills toward the neighbor who has less; to realize that to give to others of themselves is perhaps the greatest happiness.” (Condensed from “The Hudson Guild, 191o.”)

Maintains kindergarten; public library and reading room; publishes Chelsea (monthly); savings bank; nursing service (especially for babies); a milk fund for tubercular children; baths; employment; festivals; dramatics; athletic association; dances; entertainments; printing shop; civil service classes for men; classes for boys in carpentry, sloyd, English, city history and music; classes for girls in sewing, embroidery, cooking, housekeeping, music, help in studies; club organization; storytelling; gymnasium; dancing; graduate kindergarten. Summer Work.—Open house, including continuous club and class work; distribution of flowers; window box gardening; picnics, outings, etc; vacations at the summer camp of the Ethical Society (Felicia), and various vacation parties of women and young people, in co-operation with Tribune Fresh Air work. Summer baby clinic; nursing work; medical and educational work in Chelsea.

Locations. Initial—West Twenty-fifth Street; 252 and 254 W. 26th St.

Residents. Women 9, men 4. Volunteers. Women 69, men 1.

Head Resident. John Lovejoy Elliott, Ph.D., 1895-.

Source: HANDBOOK OF SETTLEMENTS written by two settlement pioneers, Robert Archey Woods and Albert J. Kennedy, and published by The Russell Sage Foundation of New York in 1911.


3 Replies to “Hudson Guild”

  1. Actually the Farm is located in the northern edge of Hopatcong, NJ. I believe that although it is a private club, the property is still part of the Green Acres program which allows for public access.

  2. MaureenKnauer says:

    When I was a child I lived in Public Housing 288 10th Ave, NY, NY (1950’s). I remember going to the Hudson Guild Farm with my family. It was a wonderful time. I believe it was in NJ. I am now 71 and would like to know if you can tell me where that was and does it still exist.

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